‘Gay conversion’ and the church

As a person of Christian faith, I welcome the bill prohibiting so-called ‘gay conversion’ practices currently before our state parliament. As a pastoral leader within the church, I believe the legislation’s intent is good and worthy of our support.

In my view, this bill’s determination is important to all people of faith, not just those it is designed to protect. It speaks to one of the central values of the Christian tradition: the worth of all humankind. Each one of us, regardless of age, colour, nationality, gender, ability or sexuality, is uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God. The invitation of the gospel — so beautifully embodied in the Christmas story — is God’s call to live into the fullness of the life we’ve been given in Christ, whatever shape it takes.  

Of course, within the church we hold a diversity of views on this, many of which have been shared publically in recent weeks. While I disagree with some of those views, I am more grieved by our approach to the debate and the level of self-interest too much of it betrays. 

I grieve the fact that we appear to be more energised by a perceived threat to our own rights and freedoms to do and say whatever we choose, and seem to have comparatively slight regard for the rights and flourishing of one of the most vulnerable segments of our community. Surely standing on the side of the wounded is where we must begin the conversation. 

I grieve the speed with which we move to the alarmist ‘consequences’ of legislation like this rather than deal with the legislation’s central intent. We did it with the marriage equality debate and we are doing it again now. It is so much easier to point away from the issue than to deal with it honestly. Surely we owe more respect to the integrity and wellbeing of the LGBTQI community than this.

I grieve our apparent failure to comprehend the damage we have done that has led to legislation like this; indeed, the damage we have done to members of our own congregations whose sexual identity is different to that of the majority. This damage is perpetrated not only by extreme conversion therapies — therapies we now conveniently distance ourselves from — but by our longstanding proclamation that those of different sexual identities are damaged goods and will never know the fullness of life unless they suppress their most natural and God-given selves and ‘convert’ to something entirely different.  

I grieve our inability to listen to the stories of countless men and women — those broken not by their discovery of who they really are, but by the relentless messaging of the church that who they are is dysfunctional and must be denied. We claim to listen, but too often we do so only to correct. We listen to set others straight but rarely to understand. To understand is to know that we are complicit in the brokenness they experience. We in the church can quickly demonise a bill like this one only because we have so little understanding of where it comes from and the tragic reality it seeks to address. 

Finally, I grieve the absence of a more considered conversation on the nature of prayer itself. The fear that this legislation will intrude upon our freedom to pray for the burdened and the broken in a particular way assumes that, in regard to the unique story and pain of the one we pray for, we already know the mind of God. The outcome we seek is pre-determined. Surely there is more to the sacred ministry of prayer than that.

I support this bill and I encourage other people of faith to do the same. But more than that, I hope those of us within the Christian church will engage in this debate with a good deal more humility and with more concern for the interests of those most vulnerable than for any rights of our own.

7 Comments

  1. I completely agree. As I said to the synod of the diocese of Melbourne a couple of years ago, we should not need the government to tell us not to harm people; and when it does, we should have no trouble accepting that law!

  2. Hi Simon
    I’d welcome a conversation with you about this. I think you have to be careful with the notion that if the intent is good, then good legislation will follow. My reading of the bill is that prayer can be a supression practice regardless of consent (even prayer which is well intended, reasonable action vs nutty crackpot action). The bill is not considered or nuanced in my view. I also note its rare for an act of legislation to use language which is so…unlegislative!
    Happy to touch base

    1. Hi Margie, thanks for you comment. Always glad to talk. I’ve read the legislation too, along with the attached explanatory memos, and I don’t quite see the same problems as you do. While I’m sure it’s not perfect, it seems to get the balance right from my perspective. I think we people of faith need to ask some questions of ourselves about the nature of prayer and the underlying assumptions we bring to our ministries of care. I realise these are difficult issues, but I have been responding to the brokenness and trauma in those impacted by misunderstandings on the two issues for a long time, and I only know the harm is real.

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